The role of a social worker on a MAID team

Personal Stories | March 11, 2022 | Dying With Dignity Canada

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A photo of Shelley

In celebration of Social Work Week, we interviewed Shelley Aronov about her role as MAID coordinator at Humber River Hospital. 

Shelley Aronov has worked in health care as a social worker (MSW) for over 25 years. She currently works at Humber River Hospital (HRH) in the Emergency Department, has extensive experience in the Oncology department, and is one of the MAID coordinators at HRH. Most departments at Humber have a social worker as part of the team.  Humber has two MAID coordinators and they are both MSW’s. 

Generally speaking, the social worker is involved in all the bio-psychosocial assessments of a patient, care plans, counselling and education, to name a few of their roles.  Social work is part of a multi-disciplinary team which includes: physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and the other experts assigned to a patient. 

“The social worker advocates for the patient’s needs, including end-of-life care and wishes, Shelley explained, “We are managing the care from all angles to ensure the patient gets the best care and their care is aligned with their core values.” 

When medical assistance in dying (MAID) became law in 2016, Shelley became interested in the law and process.

“I wanted to represent patients’ rights and their voices to be heard.”

At first, MAID was not well understood or accepted by many throughout the hospital. It was a new concept that was met with some resistance from many staff. Humber instituted the IRG Team, (Internal Resource Group) so, I volunteered for the role of the MAID coordinator and in developing the MAID program for the hospital. We implemented ways to support staff before and after MAID provisions, as well as on-going education sessions to help everyone understand the process and safeguards, and respect for client self-determination. We were also involved in policy reviews and updates with the physician assessors and the hospital ethicist” 

HRH’s MAID program developed over time and many of the staff, through education, came to better understand and accept that assisted dying is an option for some, offered onsite.

Shelley’s experience in oncology and end-of-life care gives her exceptional skills to complement the MAID team. She is used to speaking with patients, and their families about their values, quality of life, death, and dying. She can naturally create a safe space to discuss their end-of-life wishes. As a MAID coordinator at HRH, she has an administrative role managing the paperwork and scheduling, as well as the role of supporting patients and loved ones in understanding the process of MAID.

“Not all family members are on board with MAID, so we spend the time to explain the process and the procedure to help ease their concerns through, for example, the use of narrative therapy. We aren’t always successful in bringing people around, but most of the time we are. Families are grateful to have the time and opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones” 

HRH is now a leader in MAID administration and support in a hospital. Shelley says that through every patient experience, she and her team learn something new, so they continue to offer seminars on MAID in order to keep staff up-to-date and prepared.

“The social worker’s role is to support the patient in life, and in death. Because we are involved in many different situations and observe many perspectives, social workers are natural advocates for patients’ rights and wishes. I can’t imagine doing anything else.” 

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